July 16, 2013
From the Peak of Mount Kilimanjaro to the Coasts of Antarctica: Q+A with Ocean Hero Finalist Leah Meth
BY: Justine Sullivan
Leah Meth – New Haven, CT.
Leah, a Masters student at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, spearheaded the youth-driven Shark Stanley Campaign, which advocated for the passage of shark and manta ray protections at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Bangkok. The campaign, which was accompanied by an educational book titled The Adventures of Shark Stanley and Friends, began as a small group of students and grew to include an international network of over 50 organizations. Together they collected nearly 10,000 photo petitions from supporters in 135 countries. The petitions were presented to CITES delegates in March of 2013 and contributed to the passing of the protections for sharks and manta rays.
Please explain why your contribution is important and why voters should choose you as a winner of the 2013 Ocean Hero Awards:
This year, I led the global Shark Stanley Campaign, a youth coalition advocating for the protection of some of the ocean’s most vulnerable species of sharks and rays under CITES – one of the most effective international conservation agreements out there and the only treaty that regulates international wildlife trade. With an estimated 100 million sharks killed each year, fueled by the global demand for shark fin, we knew that this meeting was critical: the time to act was now. We set out to mobilize youth support for the shark and manta ray species up for protection and to ensure that our voices were heard on the international stage. Thus, Shark Stanley, a charismatic little hammerhead travelling the world to garner support for shark and ray conservation, was born. The idea was simple: take a photo with Stan and his friends Manta Reina, Waqi Whitetip, and Pierre Porbeagle – characters who represented each of the four species up for CITES protection. Each photo would act as a signature on a unique petition for our team would hand-deliver to the CITES delegates responsible for deciding the fate of these species.
In the following months, we sent Shark Stanley around the world. The response to the campaign was larger than I could have ever dreamed. Starting as just a small group of students, we quickly grew into a grassroots network of over 50 organizations as well as dozens of dive shops and local conservation and student organizations across the globe. Together, we represented a rich diversity of ages, nationalities, backgrounds, and experiences, linked together through Shark Stanley and unified in our call for change. The world rallied behind Stan, and in three short months we received over 10,000 photos from 135 countries, from the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro to the coasts of Antarctica.
If I win it will be incredible humbling. In working on shark conservation, I’ve never hoped for recognition. Ultimately, the success of the Shark Stanley campaign has been the work of the thousands of the extraordinary people who took part. If I had to give a reason to cast your vote for me, it would be because a vote for Shark Stanley is a vote for young people everywhere, who together can change the world.
What was your first victory and when did you start believing you could make a difference?
Within three days of launching our campaign we had photos from the United States, Canada, Mongolia, Northern Marianas Island, Palau, Philippines, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Taiwan, PoC, South Korea, Germany, and Singapore. After a month we had 50 countries! From there, the campaign exploded and I knew that Stan was something special – this wasn’t just a regular petition, but a way for young people across the world to build relationships with these characters and the causes, as well as meaningful links with each other.
How will you define success? What do you hope to accomplish through your ocean conservation efforts?
For me, success is defined by the journey, not the destination. The true success of the Shark Stanley campaign was the incredible synergy, creativity, and momentum brought by the collaboration across the globe.
What is the one tool/piece of equipment/article of clothing/gadget that you possess that you couldn’t complete your efforts without? Why is it so critical to your efforts?
My camera! It’s how I share the tremendous beauty of our oceans that I am lucky enough to see through my work…and more importantly, it was the tool that we used in our campaign to make sure delegates knew that the world wanted shark protections!
What is one piece of advice you would give to someone who wants to be an Ocean Hero?
Don’t ever get discouraged – even though the challenges that our oceans are facing are enormous, you can always, always make a difference! And don’t be afraid to ask for help: we can only do great things when we have support and work together.
Who is your personal Ocean Hero, and why?
Sylvia Earle. She’s a wonderful role model for young women, an incredible scientist, and an all-around inspiration in the way she is so powerfully able to share her message.
Inspired by Leah Meth? Vote for her to be a 2013 Ocean Hero!